Voting Rights

PFAW: Scandal Surrounding Senate President is More Evidence of Big Money Assault on Wisconsin

MADISON – Wisconsin Senate President State Senator Mike Ellis’ announcement Friday that he will not seek re-election, which arrived after Ellis was caught on camera claiming he might set up his own political action committee to attack his Democratic opponent, is evidence of the big money assault on the Wisconsin Legislature, said People For the American Way Regional Political Coordinator Scott Foval.

“Mike Ellis apparently felt he had no choice but to raise big cash just to compete, and allegedly was willing to compromise his ethics in the process,” Foval said. “The fact that the Senate President got caught planning to form a super PAC to attack Penny Bernard Schaber is just evidence of a larger problem – too much political money driving who gets elected in Wisconsin.”

People For the American Way and its allies have repeatedly highlighted how Wisconsin Republicans have enacted policies that benefit the wealthy and powerful corporate interests. Since 2010, Wisconsin’s GOP legislators have enacted restrictions on women’s health, restrictions on voting rights, and restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees, as well as a budget that favors wealthy tax payers rather than the middle class. PFAW’s Foval called on citizens to fight back against big money in politics and strike back at the voting booth.

“The time has come for Wisconsin’s voters to take back our state by registering to vote, hitting the streets to knock doors, and voting for progressive candidates who represent the people instead of big money donors,” Foval said.  “This isn’t cause for celebration. It’s a call to put our heads down, and get to work to elect new leadership to the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor’s office.”

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Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win. Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.
PFAW

Florida Senate Committee Takes Up Voting Rights Bill

SPB 7068 – which cleared a procedural hurdle on March 10 and is expected to come back before the Committee later this month – addresses a number of issues, including the use of certain drop-off locations for the submission of absentee ballots. Last year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive against the use of some drop-off sites, such as tax collector offices and county library branches, despite their use in Pinellas County since 2008.
PFAW

Wisconsin Democracy Advocates Push Back Against Voter Suppression and Big Money in Politics

Today, under the banner of the Coalition to Protect Wisconsin Elections, a group of seventeen grassroots nonprofit organizations including People For the American Way gathered in the Wisconsin Senate Parlor to protest a batch of anti-democracy voting rights and campaign finance bills slated for Senate consideration tomorrow. The event included voters with their mouths taped shut to symbolize their voices being silenced by the proposed legislation as well as speakers from a range of progressive organizations, including PFAW regional political coordinator Scott Foval.

Speakers expressed opposition to a legislative package that will restrict access to a free and fair vote, allow unfettered spending on so-called political “issue ads,” and reduce transparency on reporting political activity in Wisconsin, including:

•  Senate Bill 324, restricting early voting hours and banning the option of weekend voting like “souls to the polls” drives organized by faith communities.

•  Senate Bill 267, making it more difficult for people to register to vote early.

•  Senate Bill 655, repealing current law to allow lobbyists to contribute directly to legislators starting April 15 of election years, even while the legislature is in session; lowering the bar for disclosing political contributions; and allowing unlimited Internet political activity without disclosure to the Government Accountability Board.

•  Assembly Bill 202, requiring poll observers to be allowed as close as three feet to poll workers, despite numerous complaints of harassing and intimidating behavior in recent elections.

Also under consideration, but not yet added to the official Senate calendar, is Senate Bill 654, which would rewrite the rules for disclosing political “issue ads” ahead of an election.  And currently seeking sponsors but not yet introduced is a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration.

These bills could do serious damage to our democracy. In 2012, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites cast their ballots early. Several municipal clerks, who are responsible for administering elections, offered extended hours for voting to allow working people to participate in their democracy by casting their votes after work or on weekends.

In addition, the proposed new disclosure requirements would allow nearly unlimited, undisclosed political ad spending, both in broadcast and on the Internet, as well as increased allowances for solicitation activity for political bundling by political action committees and political conduits.

But “We, the People” are fighting back. Check out the video of today’s event below:

PFAW

African American Ministers In Action Condemn Cuts to Ohio Early Voting

In response to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s announcement yesterday of early voting cutbacks, Reverend Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action, said:

“These changes blatantly discriminate against the African American community. Limiting early voting hours by cutting Sundays and weekday evenings is a transparent attempt to block some Ohioans from participating in their democracy.

“It’s no secret that many Ohioans can’t vote during work hours. Our elected officials should ensure that democracy works for everyone, not making cuts to early voting that disproportionately impact African Americans.”

People For the American Way's African American Ministers In Action represents 1,500 African American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.

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Ohio Faith Leaders Speak Out Against Restrictive Voting Laws

On Wednesday the Ohio legislature passed two restrictive voting laws that cut early voting and gut the state’s absentee ballot program, among other measures. This afternoon, Governor Kasich signed them into law. In response, the Ohio members of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action released the following statement:

“It is shameful that in this day and age, we are still fighting to protect the right to vote. Hiding behind the debunked myth of ‘voter fraud,’ it is clear as day that Republican leaders simply want to make it harder for some Ohioans to cast a ballot. Our elected officials should be encouraging all Ohioans to participate in their democracy, not pushing suppressive laws that threaten our most fundamental right as citizens.”

People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action represents a network of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all.

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Assault On Voting by Ohio GOP Ahead of November 2014 Elections

Ohio Republican legislators are up to their voter suppression tricks again, trying to limit absentee ballot registrations and restricting voting hours ahead of the November 2014 elections. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that GOP Rep. Mike Dovilla, Chairman of the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, said the committee will vote on Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 238 as early as Tuesday.  If passed out of Dovilla’s committee, it could be off to the full House for a floor debate on Wednesday.

SB 205 would ban county clerks from mass mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, holding that duty only for OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has proven in the past that he will restrict voting access almost every chance he gets.

SB 238 would achieve one of Husted’s anti-voter policy agenda items by limiting early voting days, effectively eliminating Ohioans’ ability to register and vote on the same day anywhere in the state.

These legislative moves come just days after the news broke that Hamilton County officials might relocate Cincinnati’s largest early voting location to a new, much less accessible location.  That decision met with considerable push-back from voting rights activists and the media, resulting in a deadlock vote from the Board of Elections. The final decision now also goes to Secretary Husted to decide, effectively putting the power to restrict access to early voting in Cincinnati’s largest city in his hands.

If you are from Ohio, call your Representative now and tell them to protect your early voting rights by voting ‘NO’ on SB 205 and SB 238. You can find your Representative’s contact information here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory. Once you have talked to your Representative, drop us an email at political@pfaw.org to let us know what they said.  We’ll keep tabs on the situation and update you on voter suppression efforts in Ohio – and across the country – on the PFAW blog.

PFAW

Right Wing Targets 'Moral Mondays' Organizer

Right-wing groups and media are waging a concerted attack on Rev. William Barber, organizer of this weekend’s “Moral March” in Raleigh, North Carolina.

North Carolina’s politics lurched to the far right after multimillionaire Art Pope poured money into a far-right takeover of the state government.  A tidal wave of horrible legislation last year attacked voting rights, public education, health care, and unemployment insurance -- and raising taxes on poor families to give tax breaks to a handful of the state’s wealthiest people. Basically, if you want to see what unfettered Tea Party governance looks like, look at North Carolina.

In response, a huge statewide coalition led by Barber, the president of the state NAACP, organized “Moral Mondays” protests to draw attention to the legislature’s extremism. State GOP officials initially dismissed the movement, with one legislator deriding “Moron Mondays” and others blaming the protests on “outside agitators.” But the protests grew to thousands, with more than 900 people, the vast majority of them from North Carolina, being arrested.

The progressive Forward Together coalition drew tens of thousands of people to Raleigh this weekend for a “Moral March,” which kicked off a year of organizing and voter engagement. This progressive mobilization has generated excitement among progressive activists nationally, and has made Barber a target of the right wing.

In recent weeks, Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren have invited Sen. Tim Scott, Allen West, and Star Parker – all right-wing African Americans – to attack Barber for comments he made suggesting  that Scott is a ventriloquist dummy for the Tea Party.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s march, the state’s Republican Chairman Claude Pope slammed Barber for using "inflammatory and offensive" rhetoric. And Tami Fitzgerald from the North Carolina Values Coalition snarked, “The so-called Moral March on Raleigh is anything but moral. It is spearheaded by groups that support abortion and homosexual marriage.” I am not aware that Fitzgerald has raised moral objections to right-wing state officials’ attacks on poor families’ access to health care.

At a press conference after the March, Tea Party activist David Webb, a Fox and Breitbart contributor, badgered Barber about whether he owed Scott and other black conservatives an apology. No apology was forthcoming. The unruffled Barber said his job and calling are “to speak the truth about public policies, policies that hurt millions of people.” 

Barber said his critique was based on policy, not personality. “While some people may choose to get caught up on a metaphor,” Barber said, “the real indignation and upsetness should be over the regressive agenda” and over policies that are causing “real-life suffering and death.”

If folk want to get upset, get upset over the denying of Medicaid expansion, get upset over voting to reject unemployment benefits for laid off workers who are Republican, who are Democrat, who are black, who are white. Get upset over reduced access to public education and funding of it….and get upset over the attacks to turn back voting rights that were won through blood, sweat and tears.”

 

Presidential Commission Issues Report on Election Administration

The PCEA recommendations are indeed a welcome addition to the voting rights debate, helping us move closer to the day when every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts. We must keep in mind, though, that the PCEA isn't the last word on American electoral reform. Nor does the PCEA replace what the Voting Rights Act lost after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.
PFAW

The Spirit Of Selma: Moral March In Raleigh, NC

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and related rulings undermining the nation’s campaign finance laws opened the doors to massive corporate and right-wing spending. Nowhere have the results been more catastrophic than in North Carolina, where a right-wing takeover subjected state residents to an avalanche of far-right legislation targeting children, teachers, voting rights, and more.

Last year PFAW’s Miranda Blue and Calvin Sloan documented the far-right takeover of state politics that was funded by billionaire Art Pope with the help of GOP strategist and current U.S. Senate candidate from Virginia, Ed Gillespie.  In 2012, Pope and his allies poured millions of dollars into elections for the state legislature and millions more to elect Gov. Pat McCrory. 

Once they got into power, with Pope himself installed as McCrory’s budget director, North Carolina citizens were subjected to the full fury of a far-right, Tea Party-on-steroids legislative agenda. Education spending was slashed and thousands of teachers fired while tax dollars were diverted to school vouchers.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens were denied Medicaid and unemployment benefits while taxes were cut for the state’s richest residents. And in order to perpetuate the power of Pope’s puppets, one of the nation’s worst, most restrictive voting laws was put into place to disenfranchise voters, with an assist from the Supreme Court’s gutting of a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

But North Carolina has not given Americans only a terrifying look at what a Tea Party-run country would look like. It has also given us an inspiring example of grassroots organizing on behalf of a very different set of values.  Led by Rev. William Barber, head of the state’s NAACP chapter, North Carolinans began “Moral Mondays” protests at the state capitol. They were dismissed as “morons” and outside agitators by right-wing legislators. One of Pope’s right-wing groups published personal information of protestors online.

But those efforts did nothing to squelch the Moral Mondays movement, which drew thousands of people to the weekly protests.  Hundreds were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.

Now Barber and the diverse coalition he leads have put out a call to people across North Carolina and the rest of the country to come to Raleigh on February 8 for what they hope will become the largest civil rights gathering in the south since an interfaith, interracial group of people responded to Dr. King’s call to join civil rights marchers in Selma.

On Tuesday, Rev. Barber spoke to bloggers about Moral Mondays, the February 8 march, and the values-based “fusion” organizing that is sustaining the pro-justice movement in North Carolina. If you’re going to change America, he said, you have to change the south – with broad-based, locally led movements in every state. 

Barber emphasized that his movement was not partisan – that many independents and Republicans have joined in the Moral Mondays protests against the extremist and unjust laws passed by the far-right faction that now runs the state government. What motivates the new coalition, Barber said, is a combination of the constitutional principle of the common good and the biblical principle of caring for the vulnerable. A few days before the march, a policy briefing will examine the moral, economic, political and social costs of the state’s regressive legislation.

One goal of turning February 8 into a national event, Barber said, is to discourage right-wing strategists who hope to duplicate Pope’s takeover and subsequent imposition of extreme policies that Barber describes as “constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible, and economically insane.”

You can find out more about the February 8 march at the event website.

African American Ministers in Action Applauds Introduction of VRA Legislation

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, released the following statement:

“In its Shelby decision, the Supreme Court undermined some of the most important protections of the right to vote in our democracy. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has long served as a shield to protect people of color and other vulnerable voters from the threat of disenfranchisement. We welcome Congress taking up the mantle to restore the Voting Rights Act and protect every American’s basic right to participate in every election.

“Since it was first passed, the VRA has boldly confronted a problem that has deep roots in our nation’s history and, sadly, our nation’s present – discrimination at the ballot box. We must have a working democracy that includes the voice of everyone. Making sure that all Americans are treated fairly at the polls, whether urban, suburban, or rural, is something many have fought, and even died for – now it’s up to us to honor that legacy so their struggles and deaths will not be in vain. We must restore strength to the VRA.”

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PFAW Praises Introduction of VRA Legislation

WASHINGTON – In response to today’s introduction of legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“In the wake of last year’s damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision that opened the door to an influx of restrictive new laws around the country, we’re heartened that Congress has taken up the important work of replacing what the Voting Rights Act lost.

“This fight isn’t about partisan politics – it’s about the fundamental right to cast a vote that counts. It’s about all people being treated fairly at the polls. We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in our country’s history.”

People For the American Way recently launched a petition urging Congress to restore strength to the Voting Rights Act, and it currently has more than 137,500 signers.

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Marching On Washington, Again

This weekend People For the American Way Foundation turned out en masse for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.

Some could remember the original march well.  Some had driven across the country to be there on Saturday.  

Our reasons for being there were as diverse as the range of topics covered by the speakers. Some wanted to see an end to Stand Your Ground laws; others spoke in support of immigration reform, LGBT equality, or voting rights. 

But everyone stood in solidarity with those who marched half a century ago, while calling attention to the ongoing need to fight for social, economic, and racial justice.  Everyone raised their voices in support of justice for all

We saw Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) – just 23 years old when he spoke at the original March on Washington – take the podium again, speaking passionately about the need to protect the right to vote.  He called it “precious…almost sacred.”  Lewis recalled:

I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.…I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.

Members of the PFAW Foundation family also took the podium.  Young People For (YP4) alum Sophia Campos spoke in personal terms about the need for change in immigration policies, saying: 

I grew up in this country undocumented. My family is immigrant… A million people have been deported in the last five years….It’s our black and brown bodies in these cells that are being detained.

Another YP4 alum, Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, also spoke at the rally, calling on young people to take the lead in the progressive movement.  Young people, he said, are “here today to join in a conversation that will shake the very foundations of this capital.” 

And Rev. Charles Williams, an active member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, was named by the event organizers as being part of the next generation of leaders.

We came to honor those who marched 50 years ago, but also to call attention to the critical justice issues facing our country today.  As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote last week:

That’s what this week is about: making sure that we, as a country, continue to strive to fulfill the promise of justice for all -- the American Way.

PFAW Foundation

Hatch: Obama a 'Despot' for Enforcing Voting Rights Act, Blue States 'Treat Minorities Like Dirt'

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) accused President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder of acting like “despots” over the “outrageous” Justice Department decision to challenge new voter suppression efforts in Texas.

While the Supreme Court recently gutted a key enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, DoJ retains the right to ask a federal court to impose preclearance requirements on a particular state under Section 3 of the law, which the court’s ruling did not alter.

“He’s trying to reinstitute the Voting Rights Act in Texas; if I was a Texan I would be so doggone livid and mad about that I don’t think I’d ever get over it,” Hatch told NewsMax. “It just shows how this administration ignores the law; they act like they are tinpot despots.”

After arguing that the administration’s actions to protect voting rights are part of a plan to create permanent Democratic control, he claimed that Democratic-leaning states treat people of color the “like dirt”: “Some of the worst states are blue states where they treat minorities like dirt, don’t care of them, don’t do what’s right about them and frankly a lot of this liberal stuff comes out of those states.”

Watch:

Abbott: Obama Administration Voter Protection Violating Rights of Latino Republicans

Texas Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott claims the Obama administration’s lawsuit against a redistricting plan, which a federal court unanimously ruled was designed to deliberately discriminate against Latino voters, is proof that the administration is actually discriminating against Latino Republicans.

With new legal battles heating up between the Justice Department and Texas over redistricting and voter ID laws, Abbott has taken to the Washington Times to argue that the Obama administration seeks to violate “the rights of Hispanic voters who preferred representatives” who are Republicans. “The administration’s approach reveals the Democrats fear that Republican candidates were making inroads with Hispanic voters,” Abbott writes.

While around 1.4 million Texans lack voter ID, Abbott claims that “crying ‘voter suppression’ is nothing but a cynical scare tactic designed to mobilize Democratic partisans, none of whom ever will be prevented from voting by these laws,” adding that “the Obama administration is sowing racial divide to score cheap political points.”

In redistricting, the Obama administration has aligned itself with Democratic state representatives and Democratic members of Congress who already are suing Texas. It is no surprise then that the legal position of President Obama’s attorneys seeks to improve Democratic candidates’ prospects. Of course, Mr. Obama’s attorneys conceal this partisan agenda with lofty rhetoric about minority voting rights. But it is no coincidence that every change to district lines supported by the administration benefits Democrats. Behind the empty allegations of racial discrimination lies one goal — helping Democrats in 2014.

The president’s partisan use of the Voting Rights Act actually hurts many minority voters in Texas. With the administration’s support, redistricting litigation already has unseated Texas state Reps. Jose Aliseda, Raul Torres, Aaron Pena and John Garza, as well as U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco. These representatives — all Republicans — won in 2010 in predominantly Hispanic districts. In 2011, however, the Obama administration and other partisan interest groups succeeded in getting a court to draw district lines so that only a Democrat could win these seats. As a direct result, all of these Republican Hispanic representatives lost their seats in 2012 except for Mr. Aliseda, who chose not to run for re-election. His district had been dismantled altogether at Democrats request.

The administration’s approach reveals the Democrats fear that Republican candidates were making inroads with Hispanic voters. Democrats could never “turn Texas blue” if that trend continued, so they got the courts to draw district lines that guarantee Democratic victory in predominantly Hispanic areas. What about the rights of Hispanic voters who preferred representatives such as Mr. Aliseda, you might ask? They apparently don’t matter to this administration.

Similarly, polling consistently shows that Hispanic Texans strongly support voter-ID requirements, another target of the administration’s litigious political strategy. Electoral fraud harms voters of all races, and voter ID is a simple, nondiscriminatory way to help stop it. Getting an ID is free of charge for any Texan who needs one. Voter-ID laws already have been upheld by the Supreme Court. Crying “voter suppression” is nothing but a cynical scare tactic designed to mobilize Democratic partisans, none of whom ever will be prevented from voting by these laws. The administration’s absurd claim that this common-sense fraud prevention device is actually a racist plot to prevent minorities from voting would be comical if it weren’t so depressing to see an American president stoop to that level.



After the Shelby County decision, the Voting Rights Act still works. It just no longer imposes an onerous and costly preclearance requirement that disrupts the state-federal balance of power enshrined in the Constitution. Instead of allowing the Voting Rights Act to work in a way the Constitution allows, the Obama administration is sowing racial divide to score cheap political points. The president is using the legal system as a sword to wage partisan battles rather than a shield to protect voting rights. This overreaching action undermines the Voting Rights Act and the rule of law. Texas will not tolerate it. So far, neither will the Supreme Court.

PFAW Applauds Holder’s Announcement on Texas Voting Changes

WASHINGTON – In response to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to require the state to obtain federal permission before implementing voting changes, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“In the wake of the Shelby County Supreme Court decision which gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, today’s announcement is heartening for those of us who care about protecting access to the ballot box for all.  The Roberts Court decision did not affect the Justice Department’s ability under the VRA to ask a court to require preclearance as necessary for specific jurisdictions, including those that had been automatically covered by the now-defunct congressional formula in Section 4. The safeguard of preclearance is still urgently needed, and Texas’ rush to advance a discriminatory voter ID law just hours after the Supreme Court decision came down is a case in point.  We applaud the Justice Department’s new effort to protect Americans’ fundamental right to cast a ballot. We also continue to urge Congress to adopt a new preclearance formula to restore this important civil rights statute.” 

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Emergency Petition to Save the Voting Rights Act

Last year, the Supreme Court severely weakened the Voting Rights Act & voter suppression laws were passed across the country. This year, we need to fix that. Add your name to the fight and tell Congress to act without delay to strengthen the Voting Rights Act!
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